If there is a secret to successful interreligious and intercultural encounter, a key element is food. Sharing a meal with another person creates an atmosphere in which direct conversation becomes easier. Eating a meal is also a ritual of ordinary life, something we all do which makes us comfortable.
Add to this mix that some of the people at the table have been fasting for 15 hours and the arrival of the meal evokes joy!
The iftar (breaking of the fast) is part of every day of the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan. Ramadan commemorates the giving of the Qur’an to Muhammad, revered by Muslims as the last of the prophets. Observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day of this month. Yesterday, sunrise was at 5:22 AM and sunset at 8:12 PM. That’s about fifteen hours with not food or drink. During Ramadan, Muslim families arise early so that they can eat a meal together before the sun comes us. Fasting reminds them that they are dependent on God and his providence. The goal is not mortification as much as the development of a consciousness of God. When evening finally comes, often times family and friends will gather to break the fast together.
A practice developed in the Muslim community of inviting non-Muslims to what came to be called interfaith iftars. This is a chance for them to get to know their neighbors and build friendships across religious lines. In Northeastern Illinois, the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago have faithfully gathered each year to share this event with each other. Not only is it an opportunity for Catholics to learn about their Muslim neighbors, but it’s a chance for Muslims to learn about Christians.
To achieve these goals, each faith community provides a keynote speaker on a yearly theme. 2019 Catholic-Muslim Interfaith Iftar was devoted to our understandings of spirituality. Susan Pudelek of the Archdiocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs offered the Catholic reflection. Dr. Yousef Casewit of the University of Chicago Divinity School provided a Muslim reflection. Fr. Thomas A. Baima delivered remarks on the importance of standing together at a time when Jewish, Christian, and Muslim houses of worship are being targeted. Mr. Irshad Khan, of the Council of Islamic Organizations, talked of the long and fruitful relationship with the Archdiocese.
And everyone spoke about the food. It was abundant, richly flavored, and provided the energy for building new friendships and strengthening old ones.
Photos by Syed Ullah – used with permission.